Chinese student enrollment causes flap in California

Updated: 2012-09-28 10:59

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily)

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Aggressive recruitment of nearly 800 Chinese students, many with limited English-language skills, by a small Roman Catholic university in San Francisco has prompted one of its administrators to resign.

Dayle Smith, associate dean of undergraduate studies in the school of management, resigned her administrative post earlier this month but will return to full-time teaching as a faculty member, the dean of the university's business school said in a letter to staff members dated Sept 8 that was disclosed this week.

Smith's reassignment, according to some on campus, reflects the competing priorities of academic integrity, efforts to diversify the private school's student body and the considerable tuition that Chinese are willing to pay.

This year, 781 of the 10,017 students enrolled at the University of San Francisco are Chinese nationals, most in the business school. They're paying full tuition of about $36,000 a year - no financial aid or scholarships.

The university had 589 students from China in fall 2011, according to data the school provided to China Daily.

In his letter to the staff regarding Smith, business school Dean Mike Webber said this year's "considerable increase" in foreign students at USF isn't a cause for concern, and he noted that the Chinese students had been accepted for admission on a "conditional" basis, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"But given that so many of these students have weak English skills and are disproportionately from one country, we are going to be faced with some unique pedagogical and cultural challenges," the newspaper quoted Webber's letter as saying.

The letter added that Smith feared USF's handling the Chinese students' deficiency in English could "dilute the educational experience for all" of the business school's students.

Jennifer Turpin, university provost and vice-president for academic affairs, attributed the aggressive recruitment to the increased number of Chinese who chose to enroll because of the "welcoming environment our city provides".

The university had raised its admission requirements for English-language proficiency and reduced the number of "unconditional" admission slots, Turpin said, pointing out that the status gives such students access to remedial help with English.

"It seems counterintuitive, but even with lower admission rates and higher standards, we experienced a significant increase this year in the number of Chinese students overall," she told China Daily on Monday.

USF now requires foreign students to score not only an overall 79 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, but also to obtain a score of 17 on each section of the test.

"These criteria are similar or stricter than those at other universities," Turpin said. "Many other US universities are experiencing larger numbers of interested students from China."

Some of the Chinese students' language skills were so poor that they were given headsets for English-to-Mandarin translation during freshman orientation, the Chronicle reported.

"I am not that surprised to hear about this, as I had seen more and more Chinese who came from rich families with poor academic performance during my two years at USF," Wu Jingyao, a graduate student at Washington University in St Louis, told China Daily.

Wu said she earned degrees in accounting and finance between January 2009 and December 2010 from USF.

In some of her classes, she said, 80 percent of students were Chinese and communicated in their native language rather than in English. "I was always trying to run away from those kinds of classrooms."

She said challenging courses that required lots of homework attracted fewer Chinese students, according to Wu.

"USF should admit a smaller percentage of Chinese applicants, as we pay for an English-speaking environment and prefer to be classmates of native speakers in America," she said.

China has been an important source of students for US higher education, and the tuition and fees they pay- full freight, meaning little or nothing defrayed by aid or scholarships - has helped replenish the budgets of cash-strapped institutions.

According to a 2011 report by the nonprofit Institute of International Education, 20 percent of the 723,000 international students studying at US colleges and universities are from China, more than any other country.

"That's why so many US colleges and universities have joined the competition and are busy trying to attract families from China who can afford full freight for their children's tuition," the manager of an overseas-study company in Beijing, who declined to be identified by name, told China Daily.

"One of the (college admission) application tips is emphasizing their importance for the campus' diversity," he said.